Month: September 2019

The NFL draft starts Thursday night, and during the coverage you’ll probably hear about safe and risky picks. In some cases, the risk is specific to the player. Perhaps Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is a risk for his history of alleged off-the-field misconduct, while his counterpart at Oregon, Marcus Mariota, comes with worries that his stock was inflated by the Ducks’ spread offense. But some of the risk is also considered intrinsic to certain positions, while other positions carry a reputation for being particularly low-risk.The trouble, though, is that there’s no way to prove which positions consistently offer good returns on draft investment — at least not with football data in its current state. And in large part, that’s because we can’t really evaluate on player performance as accurately for the so-called non-skill positions.For instance, taking a quarterback (like Winston and Mariota) might seem like a hazardous bet to make early in the draft. But it’s possible that QBs only appear risky relative to other positions because we can more readily measure a quarterback’s performance statistically. In other words, when Ryan Leaf posts a 39.0 quarterback rating as a rookie, he’s easy to identify as a bust, but his linebacking equivalent might be harder to recognize.Here’s another example. You could use Pro-Football-Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) to estimate the odds that a player’s performance1We’re looking at the first five seasons of a player’s career. will live up to the expectations of where he was drafted, and break those numbers down by position:You’d find that the average offensive lineman2Weighted by the expected value of the pick, so that successful high picks are rewarded more — and highly-touted disappointments are more heavily penalized. meets or exceeds the median AV expected of his draft slot about 59 percent of the time — the NFL-wide average across all positions is, by definition, 50 percent — while the average receiver3Lumping together wide receivers and tight ends. provides positive value for his pick slot only 41 percent of the time. And quarterbacks wouldn’t be far behind receivers on the “risky” list, beating expectations at a rate of only 43 percent.But there’s another clear pattern in the AV data: The positions that seem like the riskiest picks are also the ones where we have the most data to differentiate between good and bad performances. Coincidence? Probably not.An offensive lineman’s AV is based solely on his team’s offensive performance, his own playing time and any accolades he receives (like Pro Bowl or All-Pro nods). So, short of being outright benched, there’s very little he could do to distinguish himself negatively under the structure of the study above (or those like it). A skill-position player struggling to meet expectations, on the other hand, can be identified via his inferior yardage, touchdowns, turnovers and the like. (To the extent that those metrics are even good descriptors of player performance.)It’s similar to the phenomenon that causes linemen to boast a far higher Pro Bowl “retention rate” than other offensive positions, particularly quarterbacks. The less information voters have to go on, the more they rely on a player’s priors (and perhaps rightly so). And the same can go for the draft, where certain positions can feel safer simply because we don’t have glaring, easily-quantifiable evidence to the contrary.The answer, of course, is more data. When Chase Stuart conducted a more granular (if anecdotal) look at offensive tackles using ProFootballFocus grades, for instance, he found what seems to be a healthy bust rate even for a position often tagged as one of the most reliable. Then again, PFF grades aren’t universally accepted as gospel, either; besides, they only go back to the 2007 season (as opposed to 1950 for AV).That’s why, for now at least, it may not be possible to truly say whether certain positions are more or less likely to live up to their draft-day expectations. It’s another unanswerable question to throw onto the pile of things about the NFL draft that we just don’t know. read more

After years of playing it cool in the free-agency game, the San Antonio Spurs entered the market this month and were the clear-cut winners. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise: Winning is pretty much what the Spurs do. And these summer victories have them poised for many more once the season starts.The Spurs nabbed LaMarcus Aldridge, the best (realistically)1There was little chance that Memphis’s Marc Gasol or San Antonio’s own Kawhi Leonard would switch teams, and while Cleveland’s LeBron James hasn’t officially re-signed, it’s basically a foregone conclusion that he’ll be back with the Cavs. available free agent of the summer, negotiated new contracts for essential wings Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, convinced Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili to each forgo retirement in favor of another crack at a championship, and even managed to snag veteran forward David West for $11 million less than he would have made had he opted into the final season of his contract with the Indiana Pacers.In other words, it was a good week for Gregg Popovich.To measure just how good it was — or how dominant next season’s Spurs figure to be, I dusted off last year’s preseason projection system (fueled by Real Plus-Minus), plugged projected RPM values into Rotoworld’s depth charts, and (unscientifically) estimated how much playing time each player will receive.2Basically, I looked at last year’s minutes per game for each player, as well as how many minutes per game were logged by others who will be at the same position on his 2015-16 team, eventually ballparking a reasonable figure. (In other words, it was definitely not scientific.) Here’s a first pass at how good San Antonio could be next season:That predicted power rating of +8.9 means the Spurs are talented enough to win about 60 games,3That estimate is based on the Spurs’ being in the Western Conference. Because the West is (somewhat significantly) better than the East, it takes more talent for a team to get the same number of wins out West than it would if they were in the East. which is very high for a true talent projection. A lot of luck and variance lurks out there, ready to make a team’s record different from its underlying skill, so most teams that win 60 or more games don’t actually possess 60-win talent. (Using Statistical Plus/Minus talent ratings, I found that only 18 percent of teams that won 60 or more games in a season4If a season was shorter than 82 games, I prorated it. since 1979-80 truly had 60-win talent on their rosters.) But this Spurs roster appears to really have that much talent.It’s a formidable group that stacks up against any of the other teams across the league — even the defending champions in Oakland. To test this, I ran similar projections for a handful of other notable teams that were either good last season and didn’t lose much talent over the offseason (like the Warriors) or have enjoyed an eventful offseason thus far.5The official list of teams I checked, in order of projected 2015-16 quality: the Spurs, Warriors, Cavaliers, Thunder, Rockets, Raptors, Grizzlies, Clippers, Wizards, Mavericks, Bucks, Hawks and — just for fun — the Knicks. (As a sanity check: Yes, the Knicks are projected to be very bad.) Here were the best of those squads:According to these preliminary projections, the Spurs are excellent, although they’re not a super-team. (In other words, they’re not a juggernaut that looks poised to blow away the rest of the league.) In the eyes of RPM, they’re essentially tied with Golden State now as the best team in basketball, closing the gap that existed between the two teams last season.But San Antonio and Golden State do seem to be well ahead of the rest of the league. Cleveland ranks third among teams I checked but is still four to five wins behind the leaders, according to the power ratings. (Oklahoma City is two to three wins behind Cleveland; Houston is one to two wins behind Oklahoma City; and then there’s Toronto and a distant group containing Memphis and the Clippers.)The Spurs were already among the class of the league before strengthening their roster this summer. While San Antonio may not shatter any records, its surgical dissection of the free-agent market has left it with arguably the best team in basketball. read more

Son & FatherIn 14 NBA seasons, Jimmy Jackson played for 12 teams. His movement mostly was more about other teams wanting him than teams not wanting him. After all that basketball, though, it was Traevon Jackson’s mom who introduced their son to the game.It was not that Jimmy Jackson did not want his kid on the court. It was that he did not know Traevon existed until he was seven. By then, the boy’s mom, Tammy Winston, was practically mortified when she saw him play basketball.“He was terrible when he first started,” Winston said to The New York Times. “He had no grace. He was just real physical and rough and clumsy.”That could have been because he had been playing football. But the son met his father, developed a relationship, worked hard on his game, and is the point guard on No. 1-seed Wisconsin, which will vie for a Final Four spot tomorrow.But it has not been an easy road. Winston, who played high school basketball, attempted to help her struggling son through pointers and verbal attacks.“She’d always give me little pointers, especially at the free-throw line,” Jackson said. “She’d say, ‘You’re missing them because you aren’t bending your knees.’ I’d be like, ‘C’mon, Mom.’ ”People would chant “Your dad was better” to the young man, almost breaking his spirit.“The negativity would manifest itself to the point where honestly I didn’t even want to play,” Jackson said last year. “I questioned it a lot. I questioned it because I got to a point where I didn’t love the game anymore. I felt like it was more of a job.”That was growing up. At Wisconsin last year, Jackson said he poorly handled some personal situations. “I had a lot of off-the-court stuff,” Jackson said to Fox Sports. “In my mind, I was a good guy. The typical good guy. I would do the right things. But I had a lot of flaws that personally I had to deal with. Whether it be going out, drinking or other things. It was a lot of stuff that I had that wasn’t good. It was my outlook. Instead of it being like a casual thing, it was my outlet thing.”But Jackson seemingly has fought through and is one of the leaders of the team with the best chance to challenge Kentucky for the National Championship. His game is not like his dad’s. Traevon is more of a floor general who can hit the open shot. And he’s a lefty.Jimmy Jackson was selected by the Dallas Mavericks with the fourth pick of the NBA Draft six months before his son was born. He had been a versatile star at Ohio State, where he used size and skill to become one of the nation’s best players.He learned about his son seven years after the draft, and they built a bond. The son joined the father on the road during school holidays and stayed with him in the summers. That passion for football faded to a love for basketball.Fourteen years later, Traevon Jackson has blossomed, but still hears the “Your dad was better” chants from opposing teams. His mom heard them, too.“I’d hear things like: ‘His father was so much better. He’s nothing,’ ” she said to The Times. “There was even a cheer in high school, ‘Your dad was better.’ I would hurt for him because he could never be just Traevon Jackson. He was Jim Jackson’s son.”Traevon Jackson did not let the detractors win. He worked hard and then harder and earned his way to Wisconsin’s starting point guard spot. He broke his foot about six weeks ago and made his return in the Badgers’ 79-72 victory over North Carolina. He played only five minutes, but should be able to log more tomorrow.Jackson said he was not concerned about recovering from his injury because he had overcome so much more. And he reverted to the spiritual upbringing his mom instilled in him.“I honestly had a peace about me,” he said. “I’ve really just been able to surrender everything to God, trust in Him and His plan.” read more

141610.20 132040.80 That kind of normalcy is not why we tune in to the tournament! Annoyed that I watched 12 consecutive hours of basketball with so little chaos to show for it, I started to wonder whether we have overblown expectations of unpredictability in March Madness. Are most days actually like Thursday, but we only remember the last-second shots and the scrappy Cinderellas?No — Thursday really was different. The first day of March Madness was anything but mad. Better-seeded teams went 14-2 on the day, and even the “surprises” were relatively easy to see coming: The higher-seeded teams’ two losses came at the hands of Middle Tennessee State (the South’s No. 12 seed) and Xavier (No. 11 in the West), both of which were among the most popular upset picks of the first round. (Our March Madness predictions had each game as a toss-up.) All told, the NCAA hadn’t seen a chalkier opening day since 2000, when the superior seeds went 15-1 after the tournament launched.VIDEO: A No. 16 seed will win, but don’t bet on it SEEDEXPECTED UPSET RATEGAMESEXPECTED UPSETSACTUAL UPSETS 15610.10 16020.00 123641.41 Expected upset rates are based on winning percentage in all first-round games for each seed from 1985-2016.Source: Sports-Reference.com 103910.40 OPENING DAY 2017 950%21.00 Total164.22 March Madness tipped off with a dose of sanity 113610.41 This year featured 2.2 fewer upsets than expected, which makes it second only to 2000 in terms of uneventful opening days during the tournament’s 64-team era. To get those numbers, I looked at the historical upset rates for each seed,1Starting in 1985, when the NCAA tournament expanded to a 64-team bracket, and going through 2016. taking into account which games were played on Thursday.But despite their disappointing record, underdogs kept the score relatively close in 2017’s opening-day games. In terms of average scoring margin, this year tied for the ninth-most-respectable showing by worse-seeded teams on an opening day of the tournament — on par with days where fans saw six or seven upsets.In other words, a lucky bounce here or there could have made all the difference for Thursday’s long shots. Maybe that means good, old-fashioned madness will be restored to its rightful place on Day 2 of the tourney. Then again, analyzing other second-day games using the same method as above suggests that Friday should be less upset-y (3.9 expected upsets) than Thursday was supposed to be. Somebody free us from this prison of predictability! read more

natesilver: I guess I’m saying a team like Toronto that is quick (at least with certain lineups) and can switch a lot, maybe they can contest that Lopez 3.Or get a few steals when the Bucks telegraph their intentions too much.tchow: Nikola Mirotic also may be back in time for Game 1. So yeah, the Bucks will have shooters.neil: And for what it’s worth (maybe something?), Milwaukee beat Toronto in three of their four regular season matchups. Those games were also before all the little upgrades Milwaukee made around the trade deadline. But we’ll have to see how the Bucks look at full strength and if they and the Raptors can even make it all the way to the Conference Finals to face each other.Let’s move on to the West, where — here’s a surprise — the Golden State Warriors are the No. 1 seed, for the fourth time in five years. Our model currently gives the Warriors a commanding 78 percent chance of winning the conference (and a 60 percent chance of winning the NBA title). On the one hand, that is amazingly high, but does it sound right to you guys?natesilver: The West playoffs feel a lot less climactic to me now that the Rockets wound up on the same side of the bracket as Golden State.chris.herring: It sounds about right to me. The one side of the West bracket is the equivalent of Michigan State and Duke being in the same region.natesilver: Utah is also a pretty rough first-round matchup for Houston. Rudy Gobert is going to make it much harder for James Harden to get to the rim.neil: Well, Chris, we were talking the other day this idea that the Rockets may have actually wanted the No. 4 seed so that they’d face the Warriors sooner. Can you explain a little about what you meant there?chris.herring: I fully believe the Rockets may be happy with this setup. At this point, they’re probably of the opinion that they can beat anyone other than GSW (and maybe them, too).Utah isn’t a pushover at all. It’s kind of an amazing first-round matchup that, in most years would be at least a second-round matchup, and in a post-Warriors universe, maybe even a conference finals.But that said, Houston beat Utah last year. And they did it by neutralizing what the Jazz do best: Take away threes and the rim. They forced the Rockets to take midrange shots, which they basically view as evil. But the Rockets did that — Chris Paul is a midrange specialist and went off for 40 points one game — and were able to win. So if the Rockets can get by Utah again, having the Warriors in round 2 instead of the Western Conference finals might be beneficial. Just so Paul and Harden aren’t exhausted or injured like they were by round 3 last season, when they played the Warriors.natesilver: Yeah, I think Chris Paul is key in that series. Utah’s pretty optimally designed to curb Harden as much as you can curb him, but CP3 is a big problem for them.natesilver: Overall, though, I think if I’m Houston, I’d rather have a hope-and-a-prayer that someone else knocks Golden State out before they reach the finals. Or that someone on the Warriors gets hurt.chris.herring: Yeah. They’d never admit it out loud, but the potential theory that they want GSW early is fascinating to me. If your line of thought is that you’re almost certainly gonna have to go through them anyway, might as well do it before you’re too spent to have a chance.neil: Right, because fatigue seemed like a big issue for them by the Western Conference finals last year.chris.herring: Golden State doesn’t fear anyone, but I think they would privately acknowledge that they see Houston as the only team that, in optimal circumstances, could beat themnatesilver: It could make the Western Conference finals pretty boring though. Our model says there’s a 93 percent chance the Warriors win the WCF (!) conditional on reaching them.chris.herring: Yeah. That’s why I keep saying the semifinals are gonna be the best round this year. Especially if Houston-Golden State is the matchup, along with those East series.tchow: Hey kudos to Oklahoma City for avoiding Golden State AND Denver AND Houston. Actually, OKC vs. Portland is the only series in the entire playoffs where the lower seed is favored according to our model. We give the Thunder a 78 percent chance of advancing.natesilver: OKC and Denver saw their championship odds improve when Houston wound up in the No. 4 seed, and it’s mostly because of the parlay that Houston beats Golden State (possible) and then THEY beat Houston (also possible). I’m not sure that Denver would have any chance against Golden State in a seven-game series, however.chris.herring: I feel bad that I don’t believe in Denver, given how well they played all year, with injuries, and with so many young guys on that roster.neil: Is Denver the weirdest No. 2 seed we’ve seen in recent memory? They didn’t even make the playoffs last year, albeit with 46 wins.chris.herring: Also, every single time Denver plays Golden State, it feels very much like GSW goes out of its way to show how easily they can dominate the Nuggets when they want to. Basically to show that a playoff series could get embarrassing if Golden State felt like imposing its will.natesilver: The Nuggets benefited a lot from their depth in the regular season — that’s why they battled so well through injuries — but depth doesn’t mean much in the playoffs.chris.herring: Their relative inexperience in the playoffs concerns me maybe more than it should.natesilver: It’s a pretty weird roster, and I think the Nuggets have some offseason work to do to turn a couple of their many, many league-average players into another really good player, especially someone who can play out on the wing.chris.herring: Part of me feels like they simply may not have another gear. Almost like those Tom Thibodeau teams. Because they’re young, perhaps they don’t know to pace themselves. And how could they? They missed the playoffs in the final game of the season last year.But the fact that Golden State just runs them out of the building whenever they play very much feels like an experienced team versus one that isn’t and needs some playoff seasoning so that they’re ready for the next time.neil: They feel destined to become another poster child for the difference between what wins in the regular season and the playoffs, for all the reasons you guys mentioned. But at least they do have a legit star in Nikola Jokic.natesilver: Denver does have a pretty big home-court advantage because of the altitude. So that they got the No. 2 seed is actually pretty relevant.chris.herring: That’s true. I at least like that they aren’t reliant on the altitude anymore to win games. (Although those teams that played at a breakneck pace under George Karl — and Doug Moe before that — were pretty fun to watch.)neil: Good point. They were an NBA-best 34-7 at home this season, and they are in that relatively lesser bottom section of the bracket.natesilver: I mean, we have the Nuggets with a 53 percent chance of reaching the Western Conference finals … and a 6 percent chance of reaching the NBA Finals. That tells you a lot right there.chris.herring: What else are you all interested to see in the West? Any hope whatsoever for Portland, despite the injury to Jusuf Nurkic?neil: Portland is another team with a lot to prove after that unexpected first-round sweep vs. the Pelicans (remember THEM?) last year. But OKC is a very tough draw.chris.herring: Portland got swept this year by OKC. Our projection model is right to not trust them. And Nurkic not being there is a killer. They had put together a really, really nice run before his injury, and perhaps could have made things interesting.tchow: I really feel for Portland fans. So many “what ifs” due to injury, and they always seem to happen when it looks like they’re on the cusp of putting it all together.natesilver: Pretty unusual to have a No. 6 seed be better than a 3 to 1 favorite (OKC is 78 percent to win the series, according to our model), but I think I agree, too.chris.herring: Yeah. There’s isn’t much to love about Portland’s chancesnatesilver: The Thunder are also the team that I’d fear the most if I were Golden State after Houston.chris.herring: Damian Lillard went nuts during the regular season against the Thunder. Had a 50-point game and averaged better than 30 a night against them, yet they dropped all four meetings.tchow: Is CJ McCollum going to be back for this first round?chris.herring: Yeah. McCollum is back. But he had a true shooting percentage of 46 against OKC, his worst mark of any opponent out West that he played at least three times.natesilver: Tenacious defense + Paul George (especially if he can get back to his midseason form) is a formula that gives you a puncher’s chance against any opponent.chris.herring: I don’t trust OKC yet. Some of that is Russell Westbrook’s tendencies being all over the place at times. Some of it is George not having played the way he was playing earlier in the year (still not sure his shoulder is completely right at times).Their defense, which is one of the best in the league, has been merely average since the break. They don’t have enough shooting. But their top-level talent is better than anybody else’s, outside of Houston and GSW. And that ultimately matters. And their side of the bracket is amazing.natesilver: Jerami Grant shot 39 percent from three this year, although that’s likely a fluke (he’s 33 percent careerwise).chris.herring: He’s been a big bright spot for them.natesilver: If they had another wing that was a true 39-40 percent 3-point shooter, that would make a ton of difference.neil: OK, so to wrap things up, let’s look at the big picture for the title as it runs through Golden State (like always). If we each had to put together a short list of teams — from either conference — who could beat the Warriors in these playoffs, how many teams would be on it and who are they?Mine might be two: Rockets and Bucks.natesilver: Our algorithm feels strongly that the list is EXACTLY three teams long: Milwaukee, Toronto and Houston.tchow: Bucksnatesilver: I guess people — or Neil and Tony, anyway — have trouble envisioning the Raptors doing it.tchow: Sorry, Toronto.natesilver: And to be clear, the Raptors would be big underdogs. Like 3:1 underdogs, per our model, despite having home-court advantage.tchow: Another way to ask that question, Nate, as a fan of gambling, Warriors have a 60 percent chance of winning another title. Would you bet on the field?natesilver: No. I think that’s a pretty fair price. And it’s pretty close to the Vegas odds, I think.chris.herring: Yeah. I feel much better about Milwaukee, just based off their season, analytics and star power than anyone else. But I don’t think Toronto would match up poorly at all with Golden State. They’d have guys who could credibly guard Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and have enough offense of their own to make things interesting.Boston seemed like a good bet to get there in preseason, but I don’t trust them to accomplish that without Smart being healthy., a And without them putting together a solid string of performances, I still ultimately think it’s the Warriors winning it all again. But I hope someone at least gives them a competitive series, be it Houston, Milwaukee (Toronto?) or both.tchow: That’s all folks! neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Now that every NBA team has played Game 82 of the regular season, we can finally get to the real business at hand: The playoffs. Let’s start with the Eastern Conference, where the Milwaukee Bucks earned the franchise’s first top seed since the league adopted the 16-team playoff format in 1984.What do we think about the big picture in the East? The No. 1 Bucks and No. 2 Raptors were the most dominant during the regular season, but seeds 3 and 4 (Philadelphia and Boston) have as much talent as anybody in the conference on paper. Who do you think should have the edge and why?natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I’m going to go ahead and agree with our algorithm that there’s a big gap between the top two (Milwaukee and Toronto) and No. 3 and 4 (Philly and Boston). Milwaukee and Toronto were a LOT better in the regular season. I agree that Philly might have as much talent on paper, but they didn’t really get it together. I’m not sure you can say that about Boston, especially with Marcus Smart out.chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): Yeah. I spent some time around the Sixers over the past week, and Brett Brown admits what Nate just said: That the Sixers have an enormous amount of talent on paper, but he almost would’ve preferred to have less rest if it meant having more cohesion with that group.The Marcus Smart injury could end up being really problematic for the Celtics for a couple reasons, too — we don’t know exactly how much time he’ll miss, but it could even be a bad sign in this series vs. Indiana.Smart would have been the guy guarding Bojan Bogdanovic, who’s essentially taken over as the Pacers’ top gun since Victor Oladipo went down with injury.Bogdanovic struggled against Smart all season, and his worst numbers of the year were against Boston because of it. But now, I assume they’ll go to Jaylen Brown to defend him, and that hasn’t worked well at all in those instances.tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): Our predictions give the Celtics a 79 percent chance to advance. Even with the Oladipo injury for the Pacers, that still seems … high?chris.herring: Probably a little high, yeah. Especially now, without Smart.natesilver: I mean, I think people tend to underestimate how little luck there is in a seven-game series. The better team tends to win out, especially if it has home-court advantage.chris.herring: I tend to think the Pacers are The Little Engine That Could. They play very hard … but that will probably only get them so far.natesilver: For what it’s worth, our algorithm is giving Boston some credit for being more talented “on paper” than they played like during the regular season. Jayson Tatum is probably a better player going forward than what he showed this season, for instance. Gordon Hayward is obviously in a different category, but maybe him, too. Boston also had the point differential that you’d associate with a 52-win team instead of a 49-win team, which is not huge, but it’s something.chris.herring: Yeah. Hayward has come on really nicely as of late, including a 9-of-9 game vs. Indiana last week. If he’s getting back to his old self, it could be tough for Indiana.natesilver: It does seem, though, that it’s a team with only one real star-level talent right now, and Kyrie Irving seems pretty checked out. That’s subjective, I know, but they have a pretty big hill to climb — having to win three road series against three VERY good teams (likely Milwaukee, Toronto and Golden State, in that order) even if they get past Indiana.chris.herring: I’ll be honest: I’m not very amped about the East’s first round at all. But that second round will probably be eons better than the West’s conference final.neil: Yeah, it sounds from this like Boston-Indiana is the first-round series that has caught your attention the most. But that might be by default.chris.herring: I think Philly-Brooklyn could be somewhat interesting. It doesn’t sound like an absolute given that Joel Embiid will play Game 1. The Nets are essentially playing with house money, and though they’ve struggled as of late, they had a harder end-of-season schedule than the other teams fighting their way into the playoffs.natesilver: The Nets are kind of a buzzy team. But Philly, maybe in contrast to a Marcus Smart-less Boston, has enough talent that maybe they can be slightly subpar and still win fairly easily.chris.herring: Yeah. I don’t expect much from Brooklyn, but I could see them making things interesting because of the limited time the Sixers have had together. Other than that — and some slight interest in how Boston looks without Smart/what it means for Indiana — I wish I could just simulate the East’s first round like a video game or somethingneil: Haha. Let’s just play it out in NBA 2K.chris.herring: Maybe that isn’t fair to Orlando, though. They’ve been good for a decent amount of time now.neil: They’ve been on fire (11-2) since mid-March.chris.herring: I just feel like it ultimately won’t matter against a club like Toronto.natesilver: I also think Philly has more flip-the-switch potential than Boston. Maybe Jimmy Butler accepts his role as what’s essentially a third fiddle on offense and plays dominant defense and starts hitting 3s again. Maybe they treat the playoffs as a fun eight-week road trip instead of worrying too much about how the team is constructed in the future.tchow: Just tell me what needs to happen to get Sixers vs. Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals.neil: Well, the Raptors would have to lose in the second round AGAIN. How soul crushing would that be for that franchise? This was sorta supposed to be their year after LeBron left the East. (Especially after adding Kawhi Leonard.)chris.herring: I don’t know how I feel yet about the Sixers-Raptors series, assuming it happens. But I think the Bucks should be favored against everyone, honestly. I think everybody has downplayed them, even as they’ve had this unbelievable season, with the likely MVP and coach of the year.natesilver: The Raptors somehow won 58 games with Kawhi only playing 60. That’s seriously impressive.chris.herring: I don’t know if it’s a small-market thing. Or if it’s just that people seem to be a year late on everything. It is impressive!At the same time, they won 59 last year without him. So I’m more impressed by the Bucks essentially having the same cast and transforming into what they are now. I don’t know. Maybe it’s simply Milwaukee’s newness that I’m taken by.neil: Are we also maybe holding Toronto’s playoff track record against them? (Even if it’s a relatively new version of that team this season?)chris.herring: Nah. I’m not. Kawhi is such a different player than DeMar DeRozan, who had a game that didn’t translate all that well to postseason. Also, Pascal Siakam has improved by leaps and bounds. You could ignore him before on defense, and now that’s tantamount to having a death wish.natesilver: They also have one of the two real stars in the East that’s won a ring before (Kawhi, with Kyrie being the other). Which I know sounds like boilerplate sports radio talk, but our research has found that playoff experience is actually fairly predictive.chris.herring: I think Toronto fans have wanted to believe their team was different for a couple years now. Almost like that “Shawshank Redemption” scene where Red keeps going to the parole hearing and saying he’s a changed man, ready to rejoin society. But this time, the Raptors are different. Kawhi alone would have made them that way, but Siakam is a different player. As is Lowry, who hasn’t quite looked himself at all times. But has the experience, and has a better roster around him.natesilver: Our algorithm also thinks that all six of their top rotation guys are above-average defensively. So that’s likely to keep them in every game unless they get mentally checked out.Which, I don’t know. I wouldn’t totally rule out the possibility that they take a rough loss in a Game 1 or 2 somewhere and start panicking, and Kawhi starts thinking about how nice the Clippers could look next year with him in L.A.But on balance, I think I’m on the side that says people are reading too much into the Raptors’ past playoff failures. It’s a different team this year, and there’s no LeBron.chris.herring: Like the Munchkins when they realize the Wicked Witch is dead. Why do I keep using these movie references? What is wrong with me?neil: LOL.tchow: As of right now though, our model actually favors Toronto (slightly) over the Bucks to make the Finals (46 percent vs. 42 percent). Toronto fans have to be happy to see that.neil: Do you guys agree?natesilver: Yeah, that surprised me a bit. But Toronto has more playoff experience and Milwaukee has some injury issues.tchow: I guess it’ll go a long way in the “playoff experience” argument to see how far a team like the Bucks go this year after that seven-game series last season against Boston. I have a hard time betting against them in the East though.natesilver: On the flip side, Giannis Antetokounmpo is presumably going to start playing 37-38 minutes a game now after only playing 32.8 minutes in the regular season. That actually makes a pretty big difference.chris.herring: That surprises me, but only a little. Their records aren’t that far off. The Raptors have played Kawhi a lot fewer games than Giannis.What I do think will be key at some point, which we haven’t talked about yet, is the Bucks’ need to get back to full strength. They’ve been without Malcolm Brogdon, and Tony Snell has missed time, too. It doesn’t matter in a round 1 matchup. But it comes into play in a very big way in the following two rounds, should they get that far.natesilver: I do wonder if Milwaukee’s whole floor spacing thing will work slightly less well in the playoffs. If you can contain Giannis — obviously not at all easy — there really isn’t a second iso-ball scorer on the whole roster. Maybe Eric Bledsoe, I guess.chris.herring: I just don’t know how it’s donenatesilver: Containing Giannis you mean?chris.herring: Before, there wasn’t much trust or belief. But now, you kind of either have to help in the paint against him, or leave open someone like Brook Lopez, who will gladly shoot a triple.There were screenshots last postseason of four Celtics standing in the paint at one time to stop him, because Milwaukee wasn’t trained to score outside of his drives to the basket.Now, even Giannis will pull 3s every now and then, just to keep defenses honest. Bledsoe’s had a nice year. Lopez is there, but wasn’t before. read more

Columbus Crew vs. Real Salt LakeThursday, 8pm at Crew StadiumGame 1: RSL 1, Crew 0Players to watchColumbusForward Guillermo Barros Schelotto.  Because the Crew are entering the game in need of two goals to advance, Crew coach Robert Warzycha must employ his top goal scorer if the Crew wish to advance.Real Salt Lake Goalkeeper Nick Rimando.Real Salt Lake knows that the Crew will be pulling out all the stops when it comes to scoring goals. Rimando will surely face an onslaught for the Crew forwards, especially if the game is scoreless late.Key to the MatchWith the Crew already in a one-goal hole, Warzycha must employ his top goal scoring lineup. They don’t have the luxury of playing their usual game, as they must score at least two goals to advance. The Columbus Crew are losing 1-0 in their second playoff game of the season and the referee hasn’t yet blown the opening whistle.The first-round format in the MLS Cup playoffs features a home and home series in which the winner is determined by which team scores a higher total of goals over a two-game stretch.This makes it effectively a 180-minute match where the half-time is days, not minutes.The Crew will take the field Thursday evening in the hole. Their play as of late does not easily lend itself to confidence in their ability to dig themselves out. They don’t even appear to be using all of their shovels.Columbus coach Robert Warzycha’s constant lineup shifting has been well documented this season. Last season’s MLS MVP and current Crew leading scorer, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, has been kept out of games when the opponent has artificial turf.Imagine, by way of comparison, if Jim Tressel had held Beanie Wells out of a game against Penn State because they don’t play on FieldTurf.Warzycha will need to put his best goal-scoring combination on the field without sacrificing the integrity of the defense.When asked about sitting his top goal scorer in the first match against Real Salt Lake, the Crew’s first round opponent, Warzycha simply said he wanted to try something new.“We didn’t score any goals in the last five games when they were on the field,” Warzycha said about Schelotto and Crew forward Alejandro Moreno. “I thought we’d go with a different combination.”Even the opposing coach appeared surprised by Warzycha’s decision to sit Schelotto, but that didn’t make him unhappy about the turn of events.“I don’t know what’s going on inside of their locker room,” Kreis said. “I don’t have all the information that goes into the decision, but we’re feeling good about it.”Regardless of the reason for the 1-0 victory, RSL forward Robbie Findley can smell the blood in the water.“We’ve been talking all week about this home game being our chance to get out on top,” Findley said. “Now we’ve got to go over there for a tough game, a hard-fought game, and now we’ve got to leave it all on the field.”Columbus will run onto the field at Crew Stadium Thursday night knowing they have their work cut out for them. A one-goal victory, such as they’ve recorded eight times this season, will not suffice. Fans can hope they won’t make the task more difficult on themselves by leaving their biggest producers off the field.Crew captain and defender Frankie Hejduk isn’t sounding an alarm just yet.“[Being down a goal] doesn’t change anything,” Hejduk said. “We’re going to come out firing and we’re pretty solid at home, so we’re not too worried about it.”Somebody had better start worrying about it. Otherwise, the Crew’s road to a repeat will come to an unhappy end. read more

first_imgFollowing the keen baker’s win, eagle-eyed fans spotted a ring on the third finger of her left hand in a recent picture on Instagram and suggested she might be engaged to her long-term boyfriend Liam.He featured in the episode, hugging and kissing her as he congratulated her, but she was not wearing an engagement ring during filming.After the winner was announced at a celebration attended by the family and friends of the three finalists, as well as the other nine bakers knocked out in previous rounds, Brown admitted: “When they said my name that means more to me than anyone will ever realise. She added: “I love baking and this has increased my love of baking. If I can get my little vintage shop selling tea and cakes with random antiques that would be my ultimate dream.”Let’s wait and see what will come my way but I will be grabbing it with both hands and running with it, that’s for sure. It would be crazy not to, wouldn’t it?” To fit in with the royal theme of the week, to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday, the bakers were tasked with creating a picnic fit for the monarch – one chocolate celebration cake, 12 puff pastry sausage rolls, 12 mini quiches, 12 savoury scones and 12 fruit and custard tarts.Brown’s picnic was universally praised, with even her bacon, mushroom and black pudding sausage rolls getting a seal of approval, and her chocolate cake was also deemed delicious.After the final Brown revealed she had hidden her winner’s trophy in an antique chest. The popular programme peaked with an audience 14.8 million in overnight figures, although numbers are set to rise as people watch later on catch-up services.Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said: “BBC One brought over half of the British viewing public together to watch the final of The Great British Bake Off, delivering the highest ever ratings!”She congratulated the Bake Off team and thanked the “loyal fans over the last seven series” before adding that there will be two Bake Off specials at Christmas ahead of its move to Channel 4 next year.The final marked the last time Mary Berry will serve as a judge and Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins as hosts before judge Paul Hollywood switches channel with the programme, apart from the forthcoming festive specials.PE teacher Brown, 31, took the coveted title ahead of rivals Jane Beedle and Andrew Smyth. Paul Hollywood will move with the show to Channel 4 while Mary, Mel and Sue stay with the BBCCredit:BBC Brown won viewers over after a difficult startCredit:BBC The 2016 Bake Off team Brown won viewers over after a difficult start Candice Brown picks up the Bake Off trophyCredit:BBC The final of the Great British Bake Off was watched by a peak of 14.8 million people, in its last BBC outing before moving to Channel 4. More than half of all people watching television at 8pm on Wednesday night tuned into GBBO, as the final episode of the seventh series scored its highest viewing figures ever.An average of 14 million TV fans tuned in to watch as Candice Brown was named Bake Off champion, compared with the overnight average of 13.4 million who watched Nadiya Hussain take the crown last year. Candice Brown picks up the Bake Off trophy “I have low self-belief, even though my friends and family constantly build my confidence up. So it was a big moment in my life, probably the biggest so far.”I felt that everything happens for a reason, and I did it, and that makes me smile so much. In fact, I can’t stop smiling.”Brown, Rolls-Royce aerospace engineer Smyth and garden designer Beedle appeared to be neck and neck throughout the final, during which they tackled a showstopper challenge hailed by the hosts as “the biggest ever final challenge in Bake Off history”. The 2016 Bake Off teamCredit:BBC Paul Hollywood will move with the show to Channel 4 while Mary, Mel and Sue stay with the BBC Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img read more

first_imgIn a separate matter the 61-year-old was found last month by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) to have acted with “dishonesty” and “without integrity” in relation to the sale of a £2.3 million property in the Home Counties.The tribunal heard that Mr Williams  devised a scheme for a bankrupt client to conceal the purchase price of a large Edwardian house with 17 acres of land .The owner of the property in Hertfordshire owed the Northern Rock  £2.9 million, and the property was valued independently at between £2.1 and £2.3 million.Mr Williams planned to sell the property on behalf of his client to a friend for £3.9 million,  without declaring the sale price to the bank.  But the solicitor was caught after the SRA was alerted by  Wilsons Solicitors, where Mr Williams was working  at the time.His  partnership of the firm was terminated after  a year following a vote by  colleagues, who, following his departure,  found evidence of what they believed to  be mortgage fraud and reported it to the SRA.Following a two-year  investigation,  the SDT  last month took the decision to strike Mr Williams off the roll of practising solicitors.It is understood that Mr Williams intends to appeal.The Northern Rock  episode is not the first time Mr Williams’ integrity has been called into question.An  investigation  was launched by the SRA in 2010, following complaints from farmers and other rural businesses  about Mr Williams,  then a partner with  Bristol law firm Burges Salmon.It was claimed that Mr Williams, who operated with a business partner, had given negligent advice which resulted in them being mis-sold  loans with interest rates as high as 22 per cent, accompanied by high arrangement and redemption fees.With no prospect of paying off the loans many  clients were driven into bankruptcy, with some said to have been so desperate they took their own lives.In one case , dairy farmer Robert Cowling, 49, was found dead in a field on January 21, 2014, after suffering fatal gunshot wounds  at Little Crapnell Farm, near Wells.  Former MP Elfyn Llwyd, who was one of the first to bring Mr Williams’ alleged activities to the attention of the authorities,  said: “It was one of the worst financial scandals I have  come across.“At least 80 farmers were involved, many lost their farms as a result of these loans, and some became so desperate at their livelihood being taken from them that they took their own lives.”Mr Llwyd, a barrister and  former Plaid Cymru MP for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, called for  the Serious Fraud Office to  investigate with a view to assessing whether criminal charges should be brought. He alleged: “He would tell them that no bank would take them on and that they would need a short-term high-interest rate loan which he could provide.“He would tell them that this would soon be switched to a longer-term low-interest rate loan, but that never happened, leaving his customers with cripplingly high monthly repayments. On top of that he would take £40,000 for himself from his clients each month.”Mr Williams was until recently head of the agriculture team at Devon-based Michelmores Solicitors,  which he joined in October 2012.He is the author of a definitive textbook on the law of agricultural holding .  When contacted by The Sunday Telegraph Mr Williams  “vehemently denied” what he called “baseless allegations” about his loans operation.He added: “I do not propose to make any further comment until after the hearing of my appeal .” Mr Williams's home in the Mendip Hills Mr Williams’s home in the Mendip HillsCredit:Jay WIlliams/The Telegraph A solicitor accused of leaving dozens of farmers in penury after allegedly mis-selling them   loans at extortionate  interest rates has separately been struck off for assisting in a mortgage fraud.Peter Rhys Williams was investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) following claims he had an undisclosed conflict of interest and gave negligent ­advice to clients relating to a loan scheme which left dozens of farmers  in financial ruin.  Some became so desperate after going bankrupt  as a result of the loans that they took their own lives.However, the investigation was suspended after a separate probe by the SRA into another complaint against Mr Williams culminated in him being banned for life from practising law.Mr Williams, an expert in agricultural law, has denied all wrongdoing.There have now been  calls for the Serious Fraud Office to  investigate  Mr Williams’ activities.While his clients ­struggled  to repay the loans, Mr Will­iams was highly remunerated  and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. He lives in a £700,000  home in the village of Blagdon, in the Mendip Hills, south of Bristol. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img read more

first_imgA man feels the full force of Storm Doris, while high winds make it difficult for planes landing at airports across the UK.The unlucky man fell on his back after the wind blew him along the pavement in Merseyside.  @GranadaReports @Guesty22 sliding into those dms be like— Toby Dunne (@dunne_toby) February 23, 2017 @GranadaReports are you gerrard in disguise— Tøm (@ZlatOnPitch) February 23, 2017 @GranadaReports 😅 I know we shouldn’t laugh but so funny.— Paula Thompson (@PThompson1024) February 23, 2017 The Storm Doris weather bomb’s 100mph gusts and blizzard-like snow has wreaked havoc across the UK – here’s how the internet reacted.While a KLM plane was thrown around by wind and rain as it made its hazardous descent into Leeds Bradford Airport.As Doris hit, Peel Ports in Liverpool announced the city’s port had been closed due to “100mph gusts of wind”, PA reports. center_img Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. The company said: “All operations are stood down for the safety of our employees, contractors and customers of the port.”Network Rail advised that “Storm Doris has caused significant disruption throughout the country”, with an enforced speed limit on some lines. “#StormDoris is literally blowing people off their feet in Merseyside,” ITV Granada Reports tweeted. Another woman in the background of the clip can be seen holding onto a railing for support as the man takes a tumble. How Twitter reacted last_img read more

first_imgThe SNP had been due to launch their election manifesto on Tuesday but that will not go ahead.Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister and SNP leader, said: “My thoughts are with the victims, their families and all those who have been affected by this barbaric attack in Manchester.“The Scottish Government is working with Police Scotland and the UK Government to ensure that we have a full understanding of the developing situation.  I will convene a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Committee this morning to receive an update and to consider any implications for Scotland.” Ms Rudd said the Manchester explosion was an attack on some of the “most vulnerable in our society”.She said the intention of the attack was to “sow fear” but stressed that it would not succeed.In a statement, she said: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the victims who have been affected, and I know the whole country will share that view.”I’d like to pay tribute to the emergency services who have worked throughout the night professionally and effectively – they have done an excellent job. My deepest condolences to the victims and families in Manchester. As always our emergency services have shown great bravery and heroism.— Tim Farron (@timfarron) May 22, 2017 Terrible incident in Manchester. My thoughts are with all those affected and our brilliant emergency services.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) May 22, 2017 My thoughts and prayers with all those affected by last night’s events in Manchester— Paul Nuttall (@paulnuttallukip) May 23, 2017 The Green Party has cancelled a planned poster launch as well as the launch of the party’s Welsh manifesto. Jonathan Bartley, the party’s co-leader, said: “Our thoughts are with those affected by this appalling incident in Manchester. For young people to be targeted in this way is utterly atrocious. “As ever our emergency services have done us proud – and we pay tribute to the police, firefighters and paramedics who stepped up in this time of need. Our country will never be divided by terror.” Our manifesto: Real political insight, free for 30 days.Rely on unrivalled insight and sharp analysis from our stellar team of Westminster insiders.Join the most trusted voice in politics. Follow Election 2017 with Telegraph Premium.Start your no obligation, 30 day free trial today. “The public should remain alert but not alarmed. If they have anything to report, they should approach the police.”But I have two further things to add. The great city of Manchester has been affected by terrorism before. Its spirit was not bowed; its community continued.”This time it has been a particular attack on the most vulnerable in our society – its intention was to sow fear – its intention is to divide. But it will not succeed.”The events in Manchester have prompted the UK’s political parties to suspend General Election campaigning.   Heartbreaking news from Manchester. My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones or been injured in this barbaric attack.— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 23, 2017 “Later on this morning, I will be attending Cobra, chaired by the Prime Minister, to collect more information – to find out more – about this particular attack, and I can’t comment any more on that at the moment. Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, cancelled a campaign visit to Gibraltar and said: “The country is united in grief after this devastating terror attack.”Just as the country is focusing all its thoughts on the victims and their families, so politicians should come together in solidarity and respect for the innocent people caught up in this vile attack.”The emergency services have shown the highest levels of bravery and professionalism and deserve our deepest thanks.”The Liberal Democrats will suspend all national campaigning until further notice.”Paul Nuttall, Ukip leader, said: “Just woken to the terrible news in the heart of my constituency, Manchester. My prayers and thoughts are with those affected. Stay strong. “In light of what’s happened I have suspended the Ukip General Election campaign.” “I have spoken with the Prime Minister and we have agreed that that all national campaigning in the general election will be suspended until further notice.” Our thoughts are with Manchester.We will be postponing today’s planned manifesto launch.— The SNP (@theSNP) May 23, 2017 Campaigning ahead of the General Election has been suspended in the wake of a suspected terrorist attack in Manchester.Theresa May said the incident at Manchester Arena was being treated by police as an “appalling terrorist attack” while Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, described the incident as “barbaric”.The Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee on Tuesday morning at about 9am.Mrs May said in a statement: “We are working to establish the full details of what is being treated by the police as an appalling terrorist attack.”All our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those who have been affected.” Mrs May had been due to visit the south west of England but the trip will not go ahead.Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said the explosion in Manchester was a “terrible incident” and that his thoughts were with those affected.He said: “I am horrified by the horrendous events in Manchester last night. My thoughts are with families and friends of those who have died and  been injured.“Today the whole country will grieve for the people who have lost their lives.“I have spoken with Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester, who has fully briefed me on the operational response in the city.“I would like to pay tribute to the emergency services for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with last night’s appalling events. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img read more